Since we were already in Europe for our Mission’s conference, we took a side trip to France. There are so many things that we love and really missed about France: wine, cheese, friends, the sea, bread, family, cheese, the alps, pastries, wine, the weather, fromage, families dear to us, du vin, hiking, museums, food, sitting in the park eating pizza, chateaux, boulangeries, du pain…..
We flew into Geneva after our conference rented a car..and spent a few weeks of holidays, catching up, sharing the stories of what we’ve been doing in Burundi, seeing people, and just enjoying la belle France.
For all us – and in many ways especially for the kids – France feels a lot like home (and yet of course, never would ever really feel like home). Micah started school in France, Alma never left Europe before she was almost 3 (except for a trip to Israel), Matea and Jonah were (in hindsight) really little when we left Canada.… They all still have friends, and strong memories of living here in France.
We had a fantastic opportunity to spend some time in some of our favourite places. While in Grenoble we were able to meet up with quite a few of my colleagues from PhD studies there.
We drove down south to visit Uncle Milton and Aunt Sharon, which for us is as close to a family holiday tradition as we have. We first visited them in Pezenas back in 2000 or so, and our kids loved our trips down here.
Now I admit – living in a very rural and impoverished part in the middle of the poorest country in the world with really bad/show/unreliable internet – I never really considered that I was totally up to date with everything. But there were several occasions when I would say something, and be shocked at the response. There were several occasions when I would mention a feature in our rental car – couched in a firm manner of shock, awe, and almost disbelief – only to hear “that’s actually a required feature for all cars starting this year” sigh.
It was a great break for our family. Saw so many old friends, and places we love, and the mountains, and the sea, and the food, and the wine.
In June we had a fantastic time in Spain at our organisation’s triennial conference. This conference brings together our workers from all over – who do an incredibly wide variety of work. Southern Europe is kind of central for us collectively – well, as central as it can be for people in Africa, Asia, North America & Europe (and as of now…South America). Serge has people who work to bring clean water to villages, people who train and support local pastors, people who teach medicine, people who run businesses to help raise people out of poverty, people who provide counselling to those in need, doctors filling the gap in places where they are desperately needed. We are teachers, engineers, doctors, pastors, entrepreneurs, medical professionals, and more. We have people overseeing the finances of our organisation so we can continue to do these things, people who care for and support the educational needs of our kids, and on, and on, and on. So it truly is at the same time a widely varied, and uniquely focused group of people
We ate a lot of food – and some really good food. (yes, I realize our standards may have dropped while living in the land of rice&beans…but still…) The kids really enjoyed being able to dish up their own, go back for more, and the presence of ice cream 2 meals a day was not lost on them. There was a pool, there was a beach, and lots of kids, and lots of really good times together, etc.
It wasn’t all fun and games – on top of all the sessions, and workshops that we attended, I gave a few workshops on using business to transform communities. We (everyone in the family) had appointments with counsellors (some of us multiple) to try to work through some of the things that we’ve experienced over the past year. That was good. Not easy, but good.
To be honest – it’s a shocking group of people. I think for many people it’s hard to not have some lingering sense of “well if you can’t make it back home…” when thinking about people who volunteer to go overseas for work like this. That those who go overseas are those who can’t make the cut. There are so many people on Serge teams around the world who are skilled, qualified, talented, certified and smart enough to do a lot – some people I think could be doing almost anything they wanted. But the collective sense is – this is more important, more fulfilling, more urgent. Not only that – but it’s a lot more interesting, a lot more fun, and makes for some great stories.
There were many tears shed for and by our co-workers – many of whom are enduring incredible hardships in their work and or lives right now. We heard stories of teammates who left too early, business that just don’t work out, kids being bullied at school, family issues, illness, etc etc. But to me there were two things present was in the midst of all this, in spite of them, perhaps even more so, because of it: humility & hope.
There was a degree of honesty amongst people there like I don’t think I’ve ever experienced. From newcomers to the organisation, to 20+ veterans, from short-term interns to our executive council, there was transparency and vulnerability. This can really only happen amongst people you trust – so obviously the level of trust was very high. It was a breath of fresh air – and something that is all too rare.
There was also hope. Despite all the hard things that were shared – there was hope. Perhaps even because of the hard things -there was hope. There was a sense that things won’t always be this broken -and we can do things now to play a hand in the renewal of things.
We’ve only been gone from Europe for about two years – but there were sure some things we loved getting back to. Some things were noticeable – and then shocking that they even seemed different (one example was driving at actual ‘highway speeds’ on a highway…and watching km after km just whistle by. Around here, there is that one place between here and Buj, if you take the back way, where you can shift into 5th gear….)
We were able to spend relaxing time with people we know from our Burundi teams, people we met at our East Africa conference (also triennial – but due to some scheduling peculiarities – ended up being only 14 months prior, meaning we caught it just after we arrived on the field), people we met at our interview/orientation with Serge when we came on board, and lots of new faces.
Overall it was a great time, a really welcomed break that I think we needed much more than we realized, and incredibly re-energizing and encouraging.